With the Edinburgh Festival Fringe just a matter of weeks away, culture vultures are already booking their tickets, filling in their colour-coded spreadsheets and planning their itineraries for the world’s largest performance arts festival.
Of course, standup comedy dominates the month’s programme and choosing between the thousands of shows on offer can feel like an impossible task. But worry not, because here are our recommendations for must-see shows representing the best of the UK comedy scene.
The show: Going Under
What is it?: It’s easy to see why Tiernan is touted as the next big thing. He embodies both a giddiness and ferocity on stage, flitting from high energy mania to perfectly crafted gags. He’s especially great at following each winning punchline with an even better topper. Go see him before he’s famous.
Where is it?: 22:00, Monkey Barrel Comedy – Monkey Barrel 2
The show: Feral
What is it?: One of the most exciting talents on the circuit, Young has everything in her arsenal to be a huge mainstream star. Her experiences as a gay, working-class, Turkish Geordie are rich pickings for a comic of her natural wit and invention, while her boundless onstage enthusiasm is infectious.
Where is it?: 19:25, Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker One
The show: Optimism Over Despair
What is it?: Pelham makes a mockery of the lazy refrain ‘you can’t joke about anything these days’. He has the exceptional ability to mine the biggest of laughs from the darkest of places, without straying into worthiness or flippancy. Pelham’s gift is to make you think and laugh, but never the former without the latter.
Where is it?: 18:50, Pleasance Courtyard – Upstairs
The show: Hubba Hubba
What is it?: If you’ve not seen Lawrinson’s weird and wonderful sketches online, you’re missing out. He has an eye for the mundanely absurd which is truly unique, with an execution that is joyfully daft. He brings the same half-cheeky half-sinister edge to the stage, where his mad-eyed rapscallion energy shines.
Where is it?: 20:30, Underbelly, Bristol Square – Clover
The show: Inhibition Exhibition
What is it?: Mahlunge has such a likeable demeanour that it sometimes disguises the fierceness of his material. He plays with themes as heavy as identity, classism and racism with a lightness of touch so deft that you don’t realise you’re being skewered by your own unconscious biases.
Where is it?: 21:25, Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two
The show: Bits & Pieces
What is it?: As accomplished a standup as you’ll see anywhere at the festival, Nelson kills you with a winning smile. In fact so affable is his demeanour and so wry his delivery that he casually gets away with the most reprehensible gags and darkest of punchlines. A guaranteed good time.
Where is it?: 19:05, Monkey Barrel Comedy – Hive 1
The show: I Feel Like I’m Made of Spiders
What is it?: Matthews has the rare ability to develop an instant rapport with a room that is born of her natural warmth and naked honesty. It makes her immediately relatable and hugely engaging. Combining a relaxed charm with a searing wit, she makes the deeply personal feel like a universal truth.
Where is it?: 15:00, Monkey Barrel Comedy – The Tron
The show: The Rob Auton Show
What is it?: To see Rob Auton perform is to escape into another reality – or at least explore the same reality through a sort of warped magnifying glass. As funny as he is profound, Auton is like a 100-year-old man with the curiosity of a child and the face of a Panini sticker from the 1970s.
Where is it?: 14:25, Assembly Roxy – Upstairs
The show: Love That For Me
What is it?: McPherson is by no means a rat-a-tat one-liner comic in the mould of say an Alan Carr or Gary Delaney, but for such a skilled raconteur he has a remarkable hit rate of gags. And yet it all flows seamlessly, which is a testament to his extremely well crafted writing and easy-going charisma.
Where is it?: 17:45, Monkey Barrel Comedy – Monkey Barrel 2
The show: Y2K Woman
What is it?: Endlessly inventive and bursting with creativity, Kempner is at once extremely contemporary and a throwback to the golden age of variety. Whether it’s political satire, musical comedy, acting, impressions or straight-up standup, she manages to excel at it all with complete fearlessness.
Where is it?: 15:45, Underbelly, Bristo Square – Buttercup
The show: Scary Times
What is it?: MacArthur-Boyd beams knowingly on stage like he’s about to confide the world’s dirtiest secret. Flitting between conspiratorial growl and high-pitched incredulity, he not so much tells you a joke as acts it out. Like all the best comics, he exudes the pally intimacy of a (devilishly witty) best mate.
Where is it?: 19:15, Monkey Barrel Comedy – The Tron
The show: Not My Finest Hour
What is it?: Haddow is defiantly optimistic in a way that’s both refreshing and empowering. Not from a place of denial that things never go wrong, but rather she wholly embraces the inherent calamities of modern life. That which does not kill her makes for hugely relatable and enjoyable material.
Where is it?: 18:55, Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two
The show: Money Princess
What is it?: O’Connell is a blessed antidote to the very modern (and wholly deluded) pandemic of absolute certainty. She doesn’t pretend to have any of the answers and instead obsesses over life’s everyday absurdities. No one is spared her acute eye for laughable hypocrisy – not least herself.
Where is it?: 18:00, Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Three
The show: Love and Hate Speech
What is it?: Steel has always excelled at picking at taboo subjects and finding a smart, funny way to dissect the hypocrisies therein, but he’s never been quite this good. It’s like he’s found another level to make his brand of mischievous social commentary even more piercing and impossible to ignore.
Where is it?: 21:55, Underbelly, Cowgate – Delhi Belly
The show: Chronic Boom
What is it?: Withnail seems to be in a constant battle with fate – reluctantly playing the part of destiny’s great punchline. And yet undeterred he’s here to tell the tale, and he does so brilliantly. He positively vibrates on stage, ceaselessly pulsating from one killer anecdote to the next. You’ll laugh until your jaw aches.
Where is it?: 19:10, Monkey Barrel Comedy – Monkey Barrel 2